Chocolate foliage brings a touch of nature to any dessert. This decorative technique is especially useful when preparing a French buche de noel, or yule log cake. A rich sponge cake is filled with chocolate frosting, then rolled into a log and decorated to resemble the wood burnt in French fireplaces at Christmas. A proper buche de noel requires many kinds of chocolate leaves and twigs to make it appear authentic. However, the addition chocolate foliage to desserts does not have to be reserved for the holidays.
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Casting a chocolate model off of a real leaf creates lifelike chocolate foliage. Brush the back of clean, non-poisonous leaves with a thick coat of melted chocolate. Set on a baking tray covered in waxed or parchment paper and freeze overnight. Peel the leaves off of the chocolate after they have thoroughly set. You will be left with a three-dimensional chocolate leaf. Medium to large leaves work best for this technique, as they support the coating of chocolate much better. If you use smaller leaves, drape them over a chopstick after brushing them with chocolate for additional support while solidifying.
For a cake that needs a touch of whimsy, draw free-form leaf shapes using chocolate as your medium. Pipe free-form leaf designs onto a parchment paper-covered baking tray. Make sure to fully connect the outline of the shape for structural stability. Draw a line down the centre of the leaf, then pipe several smaller lines radiating outward from the centre line. These will be the veins of your leaf. Allow the chocolate leaves to harden in the freezer overnight. Several bold lines are preferable to many closely spaced, fine lines since the chocolate will spread as it sets and some of the detail will be lost. Avoid connecting the veins to each other as too many small lines will break off when you peel the leaves off of the parchment paper.
Pipe thick lines of melted chocolate in branching lines onto a baking covered in parchment paper. Use photos of actual twigs for your inspiration. If you are planning to create a forest of twigs that will stand upright, set a thin bamboo skewer in the bottom 3 inches of your chocolate twig for additional support. Cover any exposed skewer with additional chocolate and let the twigs sit in a freezer overnight. A budding twig can be created by setting small sugar dragees in the chocolate before placing the baking tray in the freezer. Pearlescent light pink, lavender, green and white are best for emulating young buds.
Acorns and other nuts can be carved out of modelling chocolate, which can be purchased from baking supply stores or made at home by combining melted chocolate and corn syrup. Melt chocolate and stir in corn syrup until thoroughly blended. The chocolate should form a ball in the centre of the bowl, at which point it can be flattened on a parchment-covered baking tray. Let the chocolate firm for two hours in the refrigerator, then use a small butter knife to carve into two- or three-dimensional objects. For extra detail, dust your finished chocolate carvings with edible gold or silver dust. This is especially useful to give a golden gleam to dark chocolate acorns or silver sheen to carved white chocolate poinsettia blossoms.
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